The amount of office furniture that goes to waste is becoming a growing concern in the UK.
When businesses refurbish or move their offices, old furniture items get cast aside to make way for new products that better suit the space and new ways of working.
And now, as many businesses look to downsize their offices due to Covid-19 and move to hybrid working, it's feared that nearly half of office furniture will become redundant.
One of the biggest problems is that most of this unwanted furniture ends up in landfill. In fact, over 300 tonnes of office furniture is sent to landfill every working day in the UK, according to data from Wrap.
And this isn't the only part of an office refurbishment that can be damaging to the environment.
Here, we've highlighted some of the most important things to consider to ensure your office refurbishment is as sustainable as possible.
Plus, we share some real-life examples of how we've helped our clients to reduce their carbon footprint with their projects.
1. Removal of unwanted furniture
One of the first steps in your office refurbishment project will be to remove any unwanted furniture.
Where possible, reuse should always be prioritised to avoid items ending up in landfill. In the UK alone, approximately 1.2 million office desks and 1.8 million office chairs end up in landfill each year, causing damage to the environment.
End of use programmes where furniture is bought back or otherwise re-introduced into the supply chain, can help businesses dispose of their surplus office furniture in socially, economically and environmentally responsible ways. You reduce your carbon footprint because somebody else doesn’t need to buy a brand new item.
If your furniture items are not suitable because they have been damaged beyond repair, recycling is your best option. Another option is to ethically dispose of your items, in other words, break them down into their material groups and dispose of them that way, rather than putting them into landfill.
Here's how IE has helped clients reduce their carbon emissions over the last 18 months by reselling unwanted furniture items:
For one large global bank, we were able to reuse 4277 task chairs with an estimated footprint of 148 tons of CO2 - equivalent to 367,246 miles driven by the average car.
2. Choosing sustainable products
Due to new ways of working, the chances are you will be looking for new furniture products to kit out your new office. Gone are the days where you require rows and rows of desks and chairs, which are being replaced by flexible configurations to support collaboration, meetings, focused work and rejuvenation.
Furniture manufacturers have made great strides in creating more sustainable products, for example by using recycled materials.
Choosing sustainable products will further limit the impact your office refurbishment project has on the environment. Some products are certified Cradle to Cradle or come with an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), making it easy for you to assess how environmentally friendly they are.
It’s also important to think about the longevity of the items you buy. Often, procurement decisions are based solely on costs, with little consideration of longer-term benefits which can often include significant cost savings over the lifetime of a quality product.
"Buying typical remanufactured office desks and chairs rather
than brand new can yield savings of between 40-80%."
Taking a whole lifecycle view to procurement, i.e. assessing options based on issues such as longevity and maintenance, can help identify cost savings or other benefits which will ultimately improve long-term sustainability and help to justify higher upfront costs.
3. Minimising the amount of waste brought to site
Your new furniture items will need to be packaged up and shipped to your site. This can mean you end up with a lot of waste that somehow needs to be disposed of. Not only does reducing the amount of packaging waste help to reduce air pollution from burning, which is a common form of disposal, but it can also reduce the energy consumption associated with manufacture. Some packaging also includes hazardous waste, causing even more damage to the environment.
Many manufacturers use recycled packaging to reduce their impact on the environment. They may also work with suppliers and vendors to optimise supply chain practices. For example, consolidating shipments to use fewer packaging materials, and urging supply chain partners to use sustainable materials throughout the process.
At IE, we recently helped a large global bank reduce the amount of packaging that was brought to site. The original packaging waste projection for the project was 5,706.20kg. We were able to get this down to 1,688.05kg, reducing the total waste by 4,038.15kg.
We achieved this by:
- Getting suppliers to take back and reuse packaging
- Getting suppliers to complete direct deliveries
- Having products delivered un-assembled
- Carrying out a packaging review
4. Managing your assets
In order to fully understand the environmental impact of your office refurbishment, you need to understand your assets. Tracking your furniture items in terms of value and carbon footprint can help you make decisions about your real estate. IE’s asset management tool allows you to do just that.
Using the unique auditing tool, all your assets are ‘tagged’ and listed in a database you can access from a secure login. You have complete visibility of where your assets are at any time within your estate and transparency of how much carbon each asset has produced.
The data can be cut in different ways to help you make decisions about your furniture and real estate. A typical office task chair creates 72 kilos of CO2 over its lifespan. When that product comes to the end of its lifecycle if you choose to sell it on or donate it rather than dispose of it, that carbon will be offset because somebody else isn’t having to buy a brand new chair, which would create another 72 kilos of CO2.
The asset management tool allows you to stay on top of your carbon footprint and find ways to offset it.
When planning an office refurbishment, what you do with any unwanted furniture, any new furniture you procure, and the waste associated with getting it to site, will all contribute to your company’s overall carbon footprint.
Reusing or recycling unwanted furniture and choosing sustainable furniture products with minimal packaging will help you to reduce your carbon footprint. And tools like asset management tagging can give you greater visibility and transparency of the impact your office refurbishment will have on the environment.